Antitrust watchdogs look into Toshiba, Blu-ray

European antitrust regulators are investigating whether manufacturers of next-generation DVDs, including Sony and Toshiba, are stifling competition through exclusive contracts with film studios and computer makers.

The European Commission began a preliminary probe this month by sending questionnaires to supporters and customers of two competing formats for high-definition DVDs, Toshiba’s HD DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray, commission spokesman Michael Mann said Wednesday. The regulator can levy fines of as much as 10% of sales for antitrust violations.

“The commission has asked a number of factual questions concerning the development and licensing of HD DVD and Blu-ray technologies,” said Koji Kurata, a Sony spokesman.

“The European Commission has made requests for information from companies involved with HD DVD, and the companies are complying with these requests in a timely manner,” said a spokesman for the HD DVD promotion group.

Among the issues the EC could be looking into are potential inducement of studios and tech companies to support either format or the use of a position of dominance in adjacent markets, such as Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which work with Blu-Ray and HD DVD, respectively, to gain an advantage in hi def DVDs.

Every major studio except Universal is releasing DVDs in Sony’s Blu-ray format. U is the only studio aligned solely with HD DVD; Warner Bros. and Paramount are working with both.

HD DVD launched in April, while the first Blu-ray titles and player hit stores in June.

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